Saturday, July 21, 2012

Philippines sets plan to evacuate 8,000 Filipinos from Syria

Manila (Philippine Daily Inquirer/ANN) - Citing "escalating violence" in Syria, the Philippine Department of Foreign Affairs on Thursday said it would deploy a "rapid response team" to assist the Philippine Embassy in Damascus in repatriating 8,000 Filipinos in the strife-torn Middle East country. DFA spokesperson Raul Hernandez said the team would be composed of officers from the departments of foreign affairs, labor and the interior. Hernandez said that since March, 1,806 OFWs had been repatriated under a mandatory evacuation program. Of the 8,000 Filipinos still in Syria only around 1,300 had expressed willingness to return home. They include 130 staying at the embassy's quarters in Damascus. But as the situation worsens, Hernandez said he expected the number of returnees to increase. He said the embassy's charge d'affaires, Olivia Palala, was doing everything to implement the evacuation. Earlier, Foreign Secretary Albert del Rosario said the embassy would remain open "as long as we have OFWs (overseas filipino workers) there who need help." Instead of condemning the atrocities committed by the Syrian government, the Philippines is "maintaining strategic silence on the situation in Syria as we are focused on the safety and welfare of several thousands of our people who remain there," Del Rosario said.